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Old 26th May 2014, 13:04   #1
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Post Béla Barényi: The Father of Automotive Safety

I am starting this thread as a tribute to Bela Barenyi who gave so much by the way of automotive safety and often regarded the "Father of passive safety".

The man who had visions for a safe automobile during the days when the automobile world was obsessed with the needs of more speed, power and engine size.

The man who added the word "safe" in front of the word "automobile".

The man to whom countless lives are in debt.

On his 17th death anniversary.
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Old 26th May 2014, 22:34   #2
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Bela Barenyi- The man and his life

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On 1st March 1907, Béla Viktor Karl Barényi was born in Hirtenberg near Vienna. It was an era in which horse-drawn carriages dominated the streets and automobiles were viewed with general suspicion. And above all the latter were unaffordable for most people. Béla, however, was born into one of the wealthiest Austrian families in Austria-Hungary – and so from an early age he was able to enjoy riding in a car: his family owned an Austro-Daimler, which he grew to love as a small boy. When the First World War broke out, little Béla's fortunes changed. When he was only ten years old, his father was killed in action.

Little by little, the war and the ensuing Great Depression swallowed up all the family's wealth. The financial disaster was so great that he even had to stop attending school for a time, because his widowed mother could no longer afford to pay his school fees.

However, Béla found ways and means to enrol as an engineering student at the Viennese Technical College of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering in 1924.

In 1926, Barényi graduated from the technical college in Vienna with excellent marks. It was also the year when Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (Daimler Motor Company, DMG) merged with Benz & Cie.

After completing his degree, in 1928 Barényi took up a position as designer at Steyr, where he became acquainted with Karl Wilfert, who was the same age. In 1929 Wilfert left to become manager of the body repair department of the Mercedes-Benz branch in Vienna, and in that same year was transferred to the Mercedes-Benz research department at Sindelfingen, as assistant to chief designer Hans Nibel. This contact would prove crucial for Barényi’s career.

After his years at Steyr, the young engineer first worked for Österreichische Automobil-Fabrik AG (formerly Austro-Fiat), and then, after a brief period of unemployment, moved in 1934 to a position at the Adler plant in Frankfurt am Main. In the same year he was hired by the Technical Progress Society (Gesellschaft für technischen Fortschritt, or GETEFO), where, among other assignments, he was part of a team developing a silent block for engine bearings. In October 1935, GETEFO sent their young employee to Paris, where he transferred to the Société de Progrčs Technique (SOPROTEC) in 1936. It was in Paris that he met his future wife, Maria Kilian, and he also gained his driver’s license at this time, while working on a SOPROTEC contract for Norton, the British motorcycle manufacturer.

In the time when he worked for GETEFO/SOPROTEC alone, he registered over 150 patents. But his days at GETEFO were numbered: at the beginning of 1939 he was once more out of a job. Desolated, he searched for a new position. That was when he recalled his childhood dream: the Austro-Daimler. He applied to Mercedes-Benz. And was turned down. Feeling he had nothing to lose, he tried his luck again helped by his former colleague Karl Wilfert who arranged a meeting with one of the directors, Wilhelm Haspel, subsequently Chairman of the Board of Management. This time he was given the opportunity to prove his abilities to chairman Haspel in a one-to-one interview. Béla Barényi presented himself as the passionate perfectionist he was. He did not mince words, telling Haspel directly everything that was being done wrong in the design department. Haspel recognised the young man's enormous potential saying:

"Mr Barényi, you are fifteen to twenty years ahead of your time. You will be put under a bell jar in Sindelfingen. Everything you invent will go straight to the patent department."

Barényi never had to write a job application again.

Bela Barenyi- The Engineer

Barényi was fascinated by engineering achievements even as a child. This was partly attributable to his grandfather’s factories, but he was also growing up in an age of great enthusiasm for technology. In his adolescent years he decided to turn his hobby into a career, commencing the mechanical engineering course at the Vienna College of Technology in 1924.

For his graduation assignment in 1926 he designed a six-cylinder engine developing 50 hp (37 kW) at 3600 rpm. He was awarded a degree with distinction on graduating.

The young Barényi became interested in improving the passive safety of motor vehicles at a very early stage. Even though this term did not exist at the time, he recognized the potential hazards from vehicle components, e.g. a pointed steering wheel hub. So on a home-made racing sleigh he fitted a steering wheel with a padded hub, displaying some of the features of the safety steering wheel he would later develop.

While still a student, Barényi had been working on the concept of a modern automobile with a central tubular frame and air-cooled horizontally-opposed engine. This “people’s car of the future” (“Volkswagen” in German) even featured on the cover of the “Motor-Kritik” magazine in 1934. However, the visionary design, for which he produced the plans between 1925 and 1931, never made it through to the production stage.

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In a legal battle which lasted three years, he finally won his claim that the drafts he had made as a student of the "future people's car" be recognized as the "intellectual parent" of the Volkswagen.

Bela Barenyi and his inventions

Before we move on to Barenyi's invention and their impact in the Automotive industry, we need to understand what active and passive safety are.

So to give a brief introduction:

Active Safety:

Safety systems that are designed and incorporated into the vehicle to prevent an accident from occurring are active safety systems including aspects such as driving, psychological and operating safety, i.e. the safe driving behaviors that prevent accidents. For example:
  • Tread pattern to eject water and prevent aquaplaning.
  • Brake assist and traction control system.
  • Advanced driver assistance systems.
  • Adaptive cruise control.

Passive Safety:

The passive safety of a vehicle, subdivided into internal and external safety, denotes measures to protect the vehicle occupants and other road users from the effects of an accident some examples are seat-belts and airbags.

This is the area where Barenyi contributed the most.

Mercedes-Benz is still operating on the basis of Barényi’s theoretical and practical advances. Current solutions combine elements of active and passive safety under the overarching concept of integrated safety, and the PRO-SAFE™ safety philosophy is an outstanding result of this ongoing development and enhancement process.

1) Terracruiser and Concadoro:

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Terracruiser was a six-seater model with a central driver’s seat that boasted US-style dimensions along with a variable interior.

However, the most significant aspect of this automotive design study was its cellular construction featuring a very strong passenger cell in the centre, which was flexibly connected to deformable crash cells at front and rear – the archetype of the rigid passenger cell with front and rear crumple zones.

The three-seater Concadoro was designed at the same time and had similar characteristics, although in this case Barényi had subscribed to the widely held view that as automobiles became a mass-market phenomenon, the customer would not need or demand more than three seats.

These concepts were utilized in the F 100 concept car in 1991

Béla Barényi: The Father of Automotive Safety-f100.jpg

The bodywork of the Concadoro had a three-cell design with a swivelling cockpit above the single seat row.

Its design already included a steering wheel with a padded boss, a safety steering column and windshield wipers that moved into a recessed position when not in use.

2) Safety cell and crumple zone in series production

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Barényi urged his employers to implement his ideas in production vehicles. Accordingly, the W 120 model (“Ponton”) of 1953 was built with a floor structure offering a high level of protection against lateral impacts. Barényi had finally succeeded in getting his platform frame design into production.

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At this time he was also working on developing his visionary ideas into a safety cell for passenger cars to the stage of readiness for serial production.

The first Mercedes-Benz vehicle with a body based on the patent was the W 111 model series of 1959.

Barényi achieved the required variation in plastic characteristics at different points of the body structure mainly through the design of the longitudinal members. Linear members in the middle section the car combined with the panel structures to create a stable safety cell, as opposed to the curved members at the front and rear. In the event of an accident, these curved members would deform, thereby absorbing some of the collision energy and protecting the occupants from the full effect of the impact.

And so the Mercedes-Benz “fintail” model becomes the first passenger car with a modern-style safety body.

3) Safety steering system/ Collapsible steering column

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In the W 111 series, Barényi also introduced his new safety steering wheel for the first time.

On early vehicles with a rigid steering column, injuries often occurred when the steering wheel was pushed toward the driver during a frontal impact, potentially impaling the driver. The risk of the steering wheel being pushed backward in this way was particularly high on vehicles with a steering gear located far in front of the front axle. An initial measure to reduce this particular danger was taken with the introduction of a yielding, deformable impact absorber on the steering wheel in 1947. After this first safety steering wheel, Barényi developed the concept of a steering wheel with a generously sized padded boss and a deformable linkage between impact absorber and the end of the steering column which had been relocated toward the front.

A patent for this design was awarded in 1954.

4) The wedge-pin door lock

Another passive safety element is the wedge-pin door lock which was patented in 1958 and introduced one year later.

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This new type of lock featured two safety catches and prevented the vehicle doors from bursting open or jamming in an accident. However, in the event of a serious accident, particularly a rollover, the doors would still burst open.

The wedge-pin door lock solved the problem. Since this new lock held the doors closed in all circumstances, it ensured the stability of the passenger cell and protected the survival space for driver and passengers. After several drafts, the wedge-pin door lock was patented in July 1958 as a “Pin door lock, especially for motor vehicles.” It was first incorporated in a production car in the Mercedes-Benz W 111 series in 1959.

Awards and Recognitions

  • In 1981 he was awarded the Aachen and Munich Prize for technology and the applied sciences

  • In 1986 the Deutsche Museum in Munich honored him with a special exhibition entitled “Barényi – and his design concept of 1925 for the people’s car [Volkswagen] of the future.”

  • In 1987 he received the Badge of Honor of the city of Sindelfingen and the freedom of the town of Terracina.

  • The international significance of his developments was highlighted in 1994 by his induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, USA. This puts him alongside automobile pioneers like Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz.

  • Béla Barényi received the Federal German Cross of Merit [Bundesverdienstkreuz] in 1995

  • The man who pioneered passive safety is commemorated by plaques in Germany, Austria and Italy, and particularly by the Béla Barényi Prize, introduced in 2005. This prize is awarded by Bosch and the Austrian Vintage Motor Car Association for special achievements in working for the preservation of the automotive heritage.

2500 Patents

For decades Barényi was known as the most prolific inventor in history. When he retired on 31 December 1972, he already had more than 2000 patents, twice as many as Thomas Edison;by 2009 Barényi had over 2500 patents, most of which related to automotive innovations and enhancements.

Barényi died in Böblingen, Germany on 30 May 1997. A Mercedes advertisement featuring Barényi’s image stated:

“No one in the world has given more thought to car safety than this man.”

Picture and text courtesy:





The Motor Vehicle- T.K Garett

The Repair of Vehicle bodies- W. Livesey, A. Robinson

Last edited by Auswechseln : 1st June 2014 at 17:29.
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Old 2nd June 2014, 11:36   #3
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Default re: Béla Barényi: The Father of Automotive Safety

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Technical Stuff. Thanks for sharing!
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